Florida Panthers off to 2nd-best start in franchise history

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Florida Panthers goaltender Chris Driedger (60) is congratulated by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (72) after they defeated the Nashville Predators during an NHL hockey game, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers start every season with the same vow, to get off to a strong start and not take an early hit in the standings.

And this year, it happened.

The Panthers lost to Detroit 4-1 on Sunday, notable because it was the first time in nine games this season in which Florida didn’t get at least a point in the standings. Florida’s 6-1-2 start through nine games is the second-best in franchise history, topped only by the 6-0-3 record to open the 1996-97 season.

“We've been consistent in most games," Florida coach Joel Quenneville said. “Whether ahead or behind, tie games, we seem to play the same way and don't change the approach and stick with it."

Starting well doesn’t guarantee Florida anything. Starting poorly, however, has pretty much snuffed out some Panthers seasons before they even started.

The five Florida teams that went to the playoffs — 1995-96, 1996-97, 1999-2000, 2011-12 and 2015-16 — averaged 12 standings points through the season’s first nine games. Last season’s team, which made the qualifying round that preceded the playoffs, had 11 points through nine games.

The 18 Florida teams that mustered no more than nine points in the standings at this point in the season combined to play zero playoff games.

So, it’s a start.

“I feel like we had a great start to the season," said Florida's Alex Wennberg, who had the goal in Sunday's loss. “Obviously, this is not the result we wanted, but we can’t bury our heads too much in this one. Right now, it’s a different schedule where you’re playing them again and I feel like that’s a great opportunity to get back at it.”

Florida plays the Red Wings again at home on Tuesday.

There have been plenty of good signs: Jonathan Huberdeau had a five-point game last week, he and Aleksander Barkov have a combined 23 points so far, new Panthers forward Carter Verhaeghe has six goals already after having nine last season with Tampa Bay, and goalie Chris Driedger — off to a much better start than Sergei Bobrovsky — has a 1.97 goals-against average and .937 save percentage.

“Driegs is really good,” Huberdeau said. “When he’s in net, I think we just feel calm in front of him.”

Florida’s run of points in eight consecutive games also matched the sixth-longest such streak in franchise history. Past Florida teams have had three nine-game point streaks, the 1996-97 team had a 12-game streak to open that season, and the record was a 13-game run by the 2015-16 Panthers.

There’s obviously a long way to go, but the Panthers finally have the start they wanted.

“A lot of good, positive things, starting off here in the right fashion," Quenneville said.


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